One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

January 29, 2007

sullivan450.jpgThe Times has an op-ed today titled, “The City That Never Walks” about how New York is “falling behind” other American cities when it comes to, what, exactly? “Pedestrian issues,” the author writes, whatever that means. But the writer couldn’t possibly be talking about the actual number of steps a New Yorker takes every day compared to all other city residents in the nation. Nor could the writer be talking about the car ownership rate either, which is far lower in New York than any other city. Even though I am in agreement with the sentiment of this op-ed — that walking and biking are better modes of transportation on many levels, and cities should design streets and sidewalks to facilitate those alternatives — this piece is not at all convincing in its main assertion, that New York is “falling behind” other American cities when it comes walkability.

Yes, other cities are improving mass transit and creating walkable downtowns. Great. This is hardly a zero-sum game. I’m also 100 percent supportive of the grassroots efforts here in New York to calm traffic and improve pedestrian life that the author mentions (Gansevoort Plaza for one, which I’ve posted about here). But to say that New York is “falling behind” other American cities without saying what is being measured is rather sloppy, and provides the libertarian crowd ammunition to dismiss planners and planner-friendly advocates as silly. Here’s another bit of silliness:

Boston’s mayor has endorsed converting Hanover Street in the city’s North End into a car-free pedestrian mall. Why don’t we do the same in part or even all of SoHo?

This has been tried before and has failed spectacularly. Car-free, pedestrian-only “malls” were a fad in the 1970s and almost every single street that banned traffic has since been converted back after the pedestrian-only zone not only failed to revitalize street life, but in fact killed what was left of the street-level retail.

First rule of thumb: diversity. Cars don’t have to rule the road, but eliminating any form of transportation to promote another is the surest way to dampen activity and life. The fact is, on a weekend in Soho, when every inch of sidewalk is clogged with shoppers — who often spill onto the cobblestone streets, knocking people over with 7 shopping bags — cars are not the problem. Making life easier for shoppers in Soho would be about the last thing that needs to happen there.

(Not to mention the title, “A City That NEVER Walks?” I won’t get on the author of this article for the headline, because it probably wasn’t his doing; a headline writer on the op-ed desk most likely scanned the article and, not taking it very seriously, reformulated the first cliche that came to mind and stuck it at the top.)

New York ABSOLUTELY needs to re-prioritize away from auto-driven transportation and toward pedestrians, bikers, scooters, etc. Alas, this op-ed does not advance that argument very much. (Illustration by Harry Campbell).


Running of the Bulls

January 29, 2007

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Gothamist reports on the annual Idiotarod, a satirical race based on the Iditarod in Alaska (the 1000 mile dog sled race), except this one is run by teams of people dressed in costume who tie themselves to a shopping cart and run through the streets of New York (this year from Greenpoint to Long Island City). The event originated in San Francisco (if I remember correctly) and has spread to other cities, but has not been warmly embraced here by the authorities, as Jake Dobkins reports:

… police were swarming … They actually called in air support– I’ve never seen a police chopper that close before. Before the race began, the Captain at the local precinct read a statement saying that the event didn’t have a permit, so if anyone blocked traffic, they’d immediately be arrested…

Happily, it seems no one got jacked by the cops and fun was had by all. More photos and video on Gothamist.


Light Criticism

January 26, 2007

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What is this? Check it out, the Anti-Advertising Agency via LVHRD.


I Am Legend

January 25, 2007

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Will Smith is filming I Am Legend, an action/sci-fi thriller, on the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge. The shoot requires a thousand extras, blackhawk helicopters and cargo tanker. New York City photogs have gone berserk. See lots of photos on flickr via Gowanus Lounge (click to enlarge above pic by BlueJoel).


Global Warming: The Final Verdict

January 25, 2007

From an article on the Guardian‘s website:

Global warming is destined to have a far more destructive and earlier impact than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on climate change will warn next week.

A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer, shows the frequency of devastating storms … will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.

The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.

Read the entire article here, if you can stomach it.

To learn about the carbon tax idea, click here.


Ads of the Times

January 24, 2007

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A blogger recently attempted to photograph every ad in Times Square and post them all in one place. I will say this, the real advertecture has far more impact than the virtual ads (advertual?). The above pic is just a sampling. To see every single ad (give or take a few), click here.


Second Coming of Moses

January 24, 2007

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Befitting uber New York builder Robert Moses and his unparalleled impact on the built environment, no less than three retrospective shows about his career are opening next month, reports the Times. You can read the piece for yourself, but here’s the money quote from deputy mayor Daniel Doctoroff:

“Can there be another time when you can get big projects done all over the city?” Mr. Doctoroff said. “I think the answer is yes, and we’re in one now. Could you ever have one person who with imperiousness, with concentrated power, with lack of community input, could get things done? The answer is no.”

A lesson Mr. Doctoroff learned firsthand, no doubt (ahem…westside stadium…cough cough).

When Jane Jacobs passed away last year, I noted here on Polis that it has become the contrarian fashion to say that Robert Moses wasn’t so bad after all. Now it seems we’ll have three exhibits to assess that viewpoint.

Click here for a slideshow (including the above pic of Astoria pool).


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